Okay, again, another random trip to the library, and this time I picked out three Third Symphonies by americans: Copland, Harris, and the present Williams Schuman. I just got finished listening to the Schuman and why in gods name isn’t this piece played everywhere, everyday?
Instead of being in the classical four movements, Schuman 3, is in two parts with four movements with Baroque forms; Part 1: Passacaglia and Fugue. Part 2: Chorale and Toccata. The first movement has some great trombone writing near the end; a big four part soli over dotted strings. The fugue is nuts. It includes, but is not limited to, jagged fugue theme, an optional two octave tuba solo, some wild trumpet writing, an extended passage for winds only (there is a lot of wind writing in the whole piece. Influence of bands? Schuman did write a band staple, “George Washington Bridge”), crazy timpani solo, and perhaps the sickest ending I have ever heard. I got chills for the last two pages, just wow!
The Chorale starts with violas and cellos in two parts in octaves, playing a gorgeous hymn, builds to a climax and ends with muted horns playing the opening hymn. To describe it in that few words does the Chorale injustice, but really, it’s great. The dope level gets turned up to about 30 then the Toccata starts. For those not in the know, a Toccata is basically a showpiece, and this my friends, is a fucking showpiece. It starts with snare drum over a B-flat drone, and continues with a monster, absolutely monster, bass clarinet solo, which stretches the full range of the instrument. More winds join the fast and wild fray. Following this opening section the cello section gets to shine with lots of double stops and four string pizzicatos. In a similar way to the opening, the rest of the strings join in as the section progresses. The low winds come in with a new “strident” theme. The last 12 pages of the score have the orchestra pushed to their limit, just going insane. Rim shots on the snare, fast wind runs, jumpy triplets, big declamatory figures, and a big E-flat major chord to bring it all home.
I bring up my opening question: Why is this piece not played everywhere, everyday? It is everything an orchestra could ever want; it is easily accessible, gripping, and shows off every section of the orchestra in the greatest way possible. Orchestras everywhere would gain from playing this! It isn’t standard rep, but is awesome and could probably draw a crowd. There is nothing not to love. It is probably one of the best symphonies of the 20th century. I mean just listen to Lenny and the NYP kill it and tell me it isn’t.